A Response to Dr. Brown’s Response



In his book ‘Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus’ volume 4 Dr. Brown has responded to my online article where I pointed out a serious error in one of Dr. Brown’s claims. He had claimed that based on a calculation in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 97a) of when the Messiah is to come (which he adjusted for the ‘error’ which he believes that the Rabbis have) ‘we find ourselves right in the middle of the time of Yeshua. He was the one who came at the time the Messiah was expected to come, and this according to a Rabbinic tradition.”


Here is the text of that part of the article that deals with Dr. Brown:


* * *


Dr. Michael Brown and Jewish dating.


In Volume 1 p.70-73 of his work ‘Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus’ we see a discussion of the famous teaching in the Talmud that the world exists for 6000 years. There Dr. Brown claims that due to an error of the Rabbis calculation of the dates, they had it wrong and the correct dating places the Messianic age in the time of Jesus. He then brings a teaching of the famous Vilna Gaon, and says that based on it

“When you make the adjustment for his error (sic) in chronology (as pointed out above with regards to Rashi’s calculation) he is telling us in effect that the Messianic age began at the time of Jesus.”[1] 


How does he get to this result? This teaching says that the world exists for 6000 years, 2000 years of emptiness, 2000 years of Torah and 2000 years of the Messiah.[2] Now on page 71 he gives his calculations. Based on Rashi’s calculations (i.e. Seder Olom)

“the expected time of the Messiah’s arrival is roughly 200 C.E.”

He claims this is a miscalculation of “almost 200 years”, which he later revises to around 180 years based on the calculation that the temple ‘really’ stood for about 600 years, while the Rabbis claim it was only 420 years. By taking 180 from 200 you get to the time of Jesus. As he says:

“we find ourselves right in the middle of the time of Yeshua. He was the one who came at the time the Messiah was expected to come, and this according to a Rabbinic tradition.”[3]


Now this sounds convincing. We should certainly expect a scholar of the caliber of Dr. Brown to be familiar with the dating issues, and Jewish history. Does Dr. Brown tell the facts? Let’s examine it. This year (2003) is the Jewish year 5763. It is an easy calculation to make in order to find out when the year 4000 was. 5763 – 4000 = 1763. So 1763 years ago was the year 4000 on the Jewish calendar. So when was the year 4000? If we look back 1763 years ago we get to 240 CE. That is quite a few years after 200. In fact if we take 180 from 240 it is 60! Certainly is it not in the time of Jesus, it is actually quite a few years after the dates assigned for his death. Now Dr. Brown certainly knows what the Jewish year is and can make this calculation.


There is more to this. According to the figures given in Jewish sources the second temple was built in 351 BCE and the first temple was destroyed 70 years earlier 421 BCE. Now as Dr. Brown knows the scholars chronology disagree with the Jewish chronology and they say the destruction occurred 586 BCE. That is a difference of 165 years. So if we make this ‘correction’ we get to 75 CE. (240-165) That is well after the death of Jesus. That is after the destruction of the second temple. Certainly not ‘at the time of Jesus’ as Dr. Brown falsely claims. Significantly this places the date after the destruction of the temple!


* * *


Dr. Brown has now admitted that he had an error in his book which he has attempted to rectify in his latest book, Volume 4 pages 283-285. He also has a note #498 page 338 where he does his mea culpa and says the error was due to ‘using rough dates for simplicity….” He then notes that the newer version of Volume 1 has the ‘correction’ and states that “my only error was in failing to be more precise – my point stands intact and unaffected by the sharpening of my language.” (Emphasis mine) I would think a language change from ‘in the middle of the time of Yeshua” to being in ‘the same century’ would be a major change and could be said to affect his argument. The date adjustment is about around a half century (from 20 CE to 75 CE).


Besides making this adjustment he could not fail to reward my ‘kindness’ in pointing out this error, by attempting to attack my understanding of Rabbinic teachings. I cannot help but feeling that it would have been to his advantage to have posed these objections to me personally so that I could point out the reasoning and sources I based my comments on. Unfortunately, he did not do this. He went ahead in his book and attacked me personally, and so I am obliged to respond and, once again, show how he is wrong.


What I shall do here is quote his basic argument, and then list some of Dr. Brown’s comments which I intend on addressing. Then I will quote in full from the passage in the Talmud, with explanations from the Rabbinic commentators. I will then bring excerpts from longer commentaries from two major commentators who give fuller explanations of this passage: Don Yitzchok Abarbenal (In his Yeshuos Meshicho) and the MaHaRal of Prague in his work Netzach Yisroel. From this we shall see whether Dr. Brown’s points are correct, or further corrections are needed in his books.


* * *


The main issue really is: do the corrections to his previous versions fix the problem, or is it an attempt to cover a mistake that is unfixable? Here is what he says about his adjusted argument:


“when the years are properly adjusted it dates the expected beginning of the Messianic era to somewhere around the year 70 CE[4] – in other words, the very century in which Yeshua lived, very close to the time the Second Temple was destroyed, and about forty years from the Messiah’s death and resurrection. How fascinating!” [5]


His original contention was: “He was the one who came at the time the Messiah was expected to come, and this according to a Rabbinic tradition.”[6] So is it really true that Jesus came at the time, according to Rabbinic Tradition that he was expected? If not how fascinating can it be? I need to also point out that the year he uses is NOT what the Rabbis contend. Their date is 240 CE. In fact many of the sources Dr. Brown quotes can only be understood based on that knowledge. I shall be referring to dates from now on using BOTH calculations, first Brown’s and then the Rabbis. So the corrected date is 75/240 CE.[7]


Dr. Brown raises a number of secondary issues, criticizing my comments to him. I would like to list a few of them. The first question has to do with a teaching of the Rabbis with regards to Avraham:


1. With regards to what appears in my footnote #12 which says: “Now the correct understanding of this teaching is NOT that the Messiah comes in the year 4000, just like the Torah was not given in the year 2000 which was when Avraham lived.” He keys on to the second part of this sentence and states:  “To the contrary, Talmudic tradition claims that Abraham was in full possession of both the oral and written Torah and that he brought others into the knowledge of the Torah, so that, in a real sense, the era of Torah began with him.” [8]


What is interesting to note here is that his criticism is NOT about the truth of what I said. He does not deny that the Torah was given on Sinai, and not in the time of Avraham. He is contending that somehow I am misstating or misunderstanding the Rabbi’s teachings. Next he contends that, according to the Rabbis, there was a time when the Messiah was ‘required’ to appear.


2. “Further support for this interpretation of the Talmudic text (i.e. that the Messiah was required to come at the end of the 2000 years of Torah) is found in other traditional commentaries.” Note 502 (page 338) “This is reflected in the explanatory comment in the Steinsaltz edition.” [9]


The final two questions deal with the issue of why, according to the Rabbis, the Messiah has still not appeared.


3. “Even if Rabbi Shulman’s interpretation were correct – which is not the case – why then was the Torah given on Mount Sinai roughly 600 years after Abraham (according to the Rabbinic chronology) whereas the traditional Jewish Messiah still has not come almost 1,800 years after the expected time (again following the Rabbinic chronology)?”[10]


There is here a minor error. If we look at Rashi on Exodus 12:40 we see the Rabbinic view that the Torah was given 400 years after Yitzchak's birth and 430 after the covenant G-d made with Abraham, not 600 years. We see that Dr. Brown does not have that much knowledge of Rabbinic teachings, even though he is trying to use them to support his views.


4. “And, more importantly, how could the Talmud, compiled in its present form in the sixth century C. E., already bemoan the fact that ‘because our iniquities were many, all this has been lost’?[11] It is absolutely clear from this statement that the Messiah was expected to arrive and establish his kingdom at the beginning of the Messianic age rather then at the end of the Messianic age, otherwise, what is the Talmud bemoaning? If Rabbi Shulman were correct, the statement should have said, ‘And everything is on schedule!’”[12]




Here is the complete passage of the Talmud. The teaching he quotes is actually only part of a longer passage with three teachings on the idea of the length of this world. Without all three parts one can come to misunderstand what the meaning is.


Rav Katina said “Six thousand years the world will exist and for one (thousand) it will be destroyed, as it says, ‘HaShem will be exalted alone in that day.’ (Isaiah 2:11)”


Abaya said “(it will be destroyed for) Two thousand years as it says, ‘He will makes us live after two days, and in the third day we will arise and live before Him.’ (Hoshea 6:2)”


The Rabbis have taught in a Baraisa according to the view of Rav Katina, “Just as in the seven year cycle, there is one year of rest for every seven years, so the world will have rest for one thousand years of the seven thousand years as it says, ‘HaShem will be exalted alone in that day.’ As it says, ‘A Song, A song for the day of Shabbos.’ (Psalm 92:1) (This refers to) the day that is completely Shabbos. (i.e. the thousand years of rest.) And it says, ‘A thousand years in Your eyes are like the yesterday that has passed.’ (Psalm 90:4)”


In the house (of study) of Elijah they taught the following Baraisa: “The world will exist for six thousand years. Two thousand years of emptiness. (i.e. without Torah – Rashi) Two thousand years of Torah. Two thousand years the days of Moshiach. Because of our many sins what has happened has happened.” (I.e. years have passed and Moshiach has not yet come.)


Elijah said to Rav Yehuda the brother of Rav Salah Chasidah: “The world will not exist for less then eighty-five Jubilees (4250 years) and in the last Jubilee the son of David will come.”

He (Rav Yehuda) asked him “In the beginning or the end?”

He (Elijah) answered him “I don’t know”

(Rav Yehuda) “Will it have ended, or will it not have ended?”

He (Elijah) answered him “I don’t know.”

Rav Ashi said “This is what he (Elijah) answered him: (Rav Yehuda) ‘Until then (i.e. the eighty-fifth Jubilee) do not expect him (Moshiach), from then and further expect him.’”[13]



Before looking at some of the commentaries here to get a clearer view of the meaning of the Rabbi’s teaching, I need to note that the Talmud passage quoted by Dr. Brown also appears in Avodah Zarah 9a. There the Talmud discusses when the 2000 year period of Torah starts, and places it in the 52nd year of Avraham. More importantly, Rashi comments there on the words “Two thousand years of Torah”: “Without the days of Moshiach.” Rashi’s is clearly saying that these 2000 years of Torah are ones without Moshiach. The period of Torah EXCLUDES that of Moshiach. There is no overlap to the previous period. Accordingly, according to Rashi, the correct understanding is that the Messiah CANNOT arrive before the end of the 2000 years of Torah. [14]


The major commentaries discuss when the period of Torah starts and ends, and when the Messiah could come. The best summary of this appears in the commentary called Margulious HaYom on 97a #20:


“’Two Thousand Years Torah’. In the writings of the Gaonim it says from Adam until Abraham was 52 years are the days of emptiness.[15] From the 52nd year of Abraham until Rabbenu HaKodesh (Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi) Torah.[16] It appears that their understanding is based on the talmud (Avodah Zarah 14b) Where it is taught that Abraham taught the tractate Avodah Zara (idol worship) with 400 chapters but that we were taught 5 of them. [The tractate of Avodah Zara that Rabbeinu HaKodesh taught had only 5.] Therefore it has from the first to author Mishnah until the last one who organized it was 2000 years.”


The note in the Steinsaltz is only a reference to two commentaries, the MaRShA and the Yavatz, which say the same as the Gaonim quoted above that the period of Torah is from the 52nd year of Avraham until the time of Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi (240 CE). It says nothing about a requirement of Moshiach coming immediately after the period ends. The distinction between these two periods is clearly stated in the commentary Yad ReMah on Sanhedrin 97a:


“Still it was not yet the time for Moshiach to come until 172 years after the destruction of the second temple which is the end of the 2000 years. And from the 2000 years and further it was fit for him to come if it were not that our sins have held him back from coming. This is what they say, ‘Because of our sins what has happened has happened.’”


The MaRShA elaborates on this 2000 year period:


“that whole time was fit for Moshiach to come and is called the ‘tribulations of Moshiach.’ As Rashi says when Moshiach comes there will be an end to the exile and the servitude of Israel (to the nations.)”


The Artscroll Talmud on this passage in Sanhedrin brings a teaching of the Gra[17] dealing with this issue.

“Ramban states that ‘many dates were suited for our future redemption,’ but since we continued to act in our usual manner at those times, the opportunity was lost and the redemption did not materialize (Sefer HaGeulah ch. 4, Chavel ed. vol. I p. 292) This concept is echoed by Gra, who writes that each generation has its own appointed ‘End’ depending upon the unique forms of merit and repentance expected of it (Even Sheleimah 11:9). [18]


As has been pointed out the Rabbis view of when the 2000 years end (240 CE) and Dr. Brown’s (75 CE) are different. However in both cases Jesus lived during the 2000 years of Torah. Rashi states explicitly, and it is agreed to by the commentaries that until the 2000 years of Messiah comes, he is not expected.


We also see that his question #2 is a misunderstanding on his part. The Steinsaltz commentaries, like that of the Gaonim only state the length of the period of the 2000 years of Torah, when it begins and when it ends. It says nothing as to when in the next 2000 year period the Messiah is required to come. We see the commentaries indicate that it could be any time during this period. There was nothing in what I have said that disagrees with those commentaries, as I agree with them. And they agree with me!!



Before going on to the Abarbanel and the Maharal who have given more detailed explanations of these teachings, we need to consider two of the teachings quoted in this passage of the Talmud. This will help us in understanding their views. One teaching says in the name of the house of study of Elijah that there will be 4000 (240/75 CE) years before the days of Moshiach. The next one states that Elijah teaches that Moshiach will not come before 4250 (490/325 CE) years. There are two views of these two teachings. One, which the Abarbenal[19] follows, is that there is no contradiction. Elijah is the same one who taught in the house of study of Elijah. The Second[20], which the Maharal follows, is that they disagree.


The Abarbenal’s view is that there is no contradiction between the two teachings. He explains how these two teachings can be consistent and that there is a pattern in all three periods[21]:


“You see that in the first 2000 years of emptiness there is a part of them, from Adam until Enosh, the years of which were not years of emptiness… The emptiness did not start until Enosh when people started to worship idols 235 years after the creation as the Rabbis taught …And so it was with the 2000 years of Torah. Even though Avraham converted people, and Yitzchok and Yakov went in his ways, but Yakov’s children went out of the ways of the Torah of their ancestors… The crown did not return to its place until Israel came and received the Torah, which was 232 years later… And so it is with the last 2000 years, either 225 or 231 years were not the days of Moshiach.”[22]


Here we see that not only does he contend that the two teachings do not contradict, but he teaches that each of the periods did not ‘officially’ start at the beginning of the 2000 years. He explains how the language of the Talmud can be understood in the way he is explaining:


“You should see that in their (The Rabbis) words they say ‘the days of rain are from Tishrei until Pesach’. But that does not mean that it is required that there should always be rain…. It only means that it is the time when it is prepared for rain to come more then any other time in the year. The same thing is with the 2000 years at the end that are prepared for the coming of Moshiach… And so explained Rashi, ‘”2000 years the days of Moshiach” they are fit to be the days of Moshiach.’” [23]


From the Abarbenal we see clearly, once again, that Dr. Brown’s contention of Jesus coming in the time the Rabbis expected is wrong. He came well before the time. Since too early is not possible according to the Rabbis, his claims fail. Abarbenal states explicitly as I have stated in the footnote which Dr. Brown objected to, that the Moshiach is not required to come at the beginning of the 2000 years.



Let’s see what the Maharal of Prague says about this passage in the Talmud:


“And that which is said ‘two thousand years Torah’ does not mean to say, G-d forbid, that after the 2000 years there would not longer be any Torah. But it means to say that these 2000 years are fit for Torah. If the Torah had not been given through Moshe Rabbenu Alov HaShalom it would have been possible that within these 2000 years to have been given through another person. But before that or after that the receiving of the Torah would not have been possible even through Moshe Rabbenu Alov HaShalom, because those 2000 years are specially made for Torah. This is what is said (Sanhedrin 21b) ‘Ezra was worthy that the Torah should have been given through him, but Moshe proceeded him.’ In any case these 2000 years are days of Torah. Likewise 2000 years (of the) days of Moshiach. This means to say that they are specially made for Moshiach, but before then it is impossible that Moshiach should come under any condition, either through any level of tshuva or good deeds. These 2000 years at the end are the days of Moshiach, the end time that is specially made for the coming of Moshiach and within these 2000 years is the time that is fit that Moshiach should come…. These 2000 years were called days of Moshiach because Moshiach could come in them. For this reason we say ‘2000 years the days of Moshiach’ and not ‘2000 years the days of the kingship of Moshiach.’” [24]



There is essentially nothing different in my footnote from what this great Rabbi has said. The 2000 years is the period that is fit for Torah/Moshiach, and it can occur any time within that period.



Before summarizing what we have seen I would like to explore a little more Dr. Brown’s first objection, dealing with Avraham and his knowledge and the practice of Torah. This issue is discussed at length in many Rabbinic commentaries. Actually the issue is much more serious, and created more problems then Dr. Brown realizes and an examination of it, will clear up the problems Dr. Brown seems to have.


In his commentary on the Torah to Genesis 26:5, Rashi mentions the Rabbinic teaching that Avraham kept the Torah. In his commentary the Ramban asks a question which will spur discussion, debate, and many interesting commentaries up to the present day. He asks how can this be that the patriarchs knew and kept the Torah since we see that Yakov married two sisters (prohibited in Leviticus 18:18) and Amram, the father of Moshe, married his aunt? (Leviticus 18:12)


The Ramban answers that they followed the Torah like those who were not commanded to do so but observed it anyway. He also states that this was only in the land of Israel and not outside of it. (This view is quoted in the commentary of the Sifsei Chachomim to Rashi 26:5) So, for example, Yakov married Leah and Rachel outside of the land of Israel, even though it was forbidden in the Torah, because he really wasn’t commanded in the first place, and only accepted an obligation to keep it when he was in the land.[25] It is the same with Amram who married his Aunt in Egypt.


The Parshas Darachim (and the Pri Magadim’s commentary on it) deal with the related issue of whether before the giving of the Torah the Patriarchs and Israel’s children had the legal status of Jews, or Benei Noach (non-Jews.) The discussion is quite complex delving into many legal issues and how the Torah seems to deal with them, but the Parshas Derachim appears to be following the view of the Ramban.


Another commentator, Mizrachi, disagrees with the Ramban, and points out that in a Midrash (Pesikta Rabbah 23.9) Yakov admits that he sinned by taking two wives. This would indicate that there was, in fact, a obligation to keep the commandments. However the Nachlas Yakov points out that the language of the Midrash is not that it was forbidden, but that ‘in the future the Torah would forbid me.’ Yakov is saying that he feels that he has sinned, even though it was only in doing something he was not obligated to do, as it would not become an obligation until the future. Essentially the view of the Ramban.


In the Abarbenal, which we discussed, it appears that he does not consider it to have been an obligation at all until the Torah was given. This is not too different then the Ramban.


The Maharal in his commentary, Gur Aryah, on the Torah (Genesis 46:10) gives two answers: 1. While they accepted to do the mitzvos, it was not with the full obligation as it would be after the Torah was given. Based on prophecy there were mitzvos they did not perform, since they were not really required. 2. They were not required to keep all of the mitzvos, much like a blind person (according to the view in the Talmud of Rabbi Yehuda in Bava Kamma 87a) and like women are not required to have peyos.


While none of these explanations changes anything with regards to the points I made, they do explain that while Avraham knew and kept the Torah, it was still BEFORE the giving of the Torah, and there was a significant difference. With the exception of the Mizrachi, who the Nachlas Yakov answers, all the commentaries recognize that there was not a full obligation for Torah observance before Sinai.



To conclude, there were two claims I had made which Dr. Brown objected to. 1. That the date is wrong and does not mean that the Rabbis teaching apply to Jesus. 2. “Now the correct understanding of this teaching is NOT that the Messiah comes in the year 4000, just like the Torah was not given in the year 2000 which was when Avraham lived.” We have seen that I was correct on both. Moshiach was not required to come at the beginning of the 2000 year period, but it was hoped he would. He is required, according to this teaching, to come any time during the 2000 year period (or 1750 according to the second view mentioned.)


Simply put Dr. Brown claim that Jesus came at a time that fits the time required by the Rabbis is wrong. Jesus was a generation too early to be in the time when Moshiach COULD arrive by the earliest calculation according to this teaching. He came in a time when the Maharal states that “it is impossible that Moshiach should come under any condition.”[26]  Dr. Brown disagrees with the commentaries including RASHI and GRA!! It is therefore NOT possible to say that according to the Rabbis and this teaching that Jesus came in the time expected. Likewise we have seen that there was no REQUIREMENT that Moshiach come at the beginning of the 2000 year period. It was hoped for and expected, but there is a big difference between hope, expectation and requirement.


As to the other issues Dr. Brown raised, they are likewise without foundation. Moshiach could come at any time, and it all depends on how the Jewish people act. If Dr. Brown would return to Judaism, maybe that would be sufficient to cause Moshiach to come today. However, it is quite clear that what I have said is consistent with the views stated by Rabbis over many generations, specifically the Maharal. Dr. Brown’s questions are based on misunderstandings of what the Rabbis have taught.



[1]    Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus Volume 1, Page 73.

[2]    Now the correct understanding of this teaching is NOT that the Messiah comes in the year 4000, just like the Torah was not given in the year 2000 which was when Avraham lived. It means, just as the Vilna Goan indicates, that this is when the time leading to the coming of the Messiah starts. Similarly the year 2000, when Avraham was alive, was the start of the period leading up to the giving of the Torah.

[3]  Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus  Volume 1, Page 71.

[4]  It is interesting to note that by using this year, he is acknowledging that my calculations were, in fact, correct and known to him.

[5]  Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus  Volume 4, Page 284

[6]  Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus Volume 1, op cit

[7]  It is outside of the purpose of this article to discuss the sources of the differences in the dating. Suffice it to say that the Rabbis calculation is based on both Scripture and tradition. I am bringing their dates for the benefit of the reader, since it is essentially irrelevant to the argument I am here presenting. A fuller discussion of this issue needs to wait until I can finish my work on Daniel 9 where I discuss the various calculations of dates for the second temple period.

[8]  Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus  Volume 4, op cit

[9]  Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus  Volume 4, Page 285

[10]  Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus  Volume 4, op cit

[11]  The Artscroll translation is: “But because of our sins which are numerous, [the years] that have gone from [the messianic ere] have gone.” I would translate it as: “Because of our many sins what has happened has happened.”

[12]  Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus  Volume 4, op cit

[13]  Sanhedrin 97a-97b

[14]  Essentially this Rashi closes the book on Dr. Brown’s whole argument. What follows is only to give a full treatment of the issues.

[15]  This is the view of the Talmud Avodah Zara 9a which I mentioned.

[16]  240 CE.

[17]  This is significant because in Volume 1 the Gra was the Rabbi who Dr. Brown was trying to use to support his false understandings.

[18]  Sanhedrin Volume #3 page 97a #60

[19]  Among those who follow this view is the important commentary, the Yad Rema.

[20]  It appears that this is the majority view, as most of the commentaries I have seen assume this to be the case. I have placed this second, as according to the first view there is no need to even consider what Dr. Brown is saying as the period in question is so far from the time of Jesus.

[21]  I am only providing an excerpt of his work as his discussion of the Talmud is quite lengthy and brings in other issues that, while interesting, do not relate to the subject of this paper. He discusses why there are three periods, and also how the three different teachings relate to each other.

[22]  Yeshuos Meshicho Investigation 1 chapter 1, Page 43-44. He has a complicated calculation for his dating which I am not quoting because it would be confusing and not help to clarify the main issues.

[23]  Ibid, page 43

[24]  Netzach Yisroel chapter 27

[25]  I have seen a commentary that this is the reason Rachel died when they entered the land. If she had not then Yakov would have been in violation of the Torah, which he kept in Israel.

[26]  Netzach Yisroel op cit